I have been to Jersey twice and felt sick both times. The first was as a child and involved an absence of sea legs. The second, a few years ago, was a far more lasting experience. It left me with no doubt that there was something sinister and secretive about that small, beautiful island.
During my time with the GMC I visited Jersey for a day of meetings with various doctors and administrators alongside one of my colleagues. It was a striking experience. Our visit came not long after the much publicised grim discovery of what first appeared to be human remains at Haut de la Garenne – the site of a former children’s home – and the subsequent police investigation and multiple allegations of abuse.
The inquiry that followed, which reported today, uncovered decades of abuse (over 550 cases) – physical, sexual and mental – of children on the island and a total disregard for the rights of children and a failure by the state to protect them. It is damning, sickening and disturbing but sadly not surprising.
The Jersey I discovered on the most recent of my two visits was a strange place. Picturesque and pretty but, to coin phrase, there was something of the night about it. It had the feeling of a closed shop with lots of painted on smiles but lots being unsaid.
I did not find an island of Bergerac and the affable Charlie Hungerford but an island were there was a unsettling fascination with privacy, secrecy and an aversion to transparency. Almost every question we were asked was about how to protect their records, files, practices and behaviours from scrutiny. How they could be left alone to do their own thing? Why did the public need to know that?
We were embarking on major reforms to the way doctors in the UK were regulated, with more information being provided to the public and a major drive on reporting, transparency and publication of information. All clearly too much for Jersey. I know some of the history of the island – talk of Nazi collaboration, secret bank accounts and all that but I thought it was exaggerated. Maybe not.
When my colleague and I went our separate ways at the end of visit, I was heard to say – something I have repeated ad nausea since to their amusement – that Jersey was a sinister place. Sinister. I was left with the impression that there was much to hide and lots of people prepared to do the hiding. I have heard nothing today to change my mind. I will not be rushing back in a hurry, even if John Nettles is there to welcome me at the airport.
Images from BBC website.